Amélie Nothomb brings her father to life

08/09/2021

For her thirtieth book, "Premier sang" (First Blood), Amélie Nothomb gives the floor to her father, who recounts his childhood, his youth and his beginnings as a young diplomat. The writer thus brings back to life the man she was unable to accompany to his final resting place, as she was stuck in Paris due to COVID-19.

The story opens with several particularly poignant pages in which the narrator shares his thoughts as Congolese rebels lead him to his place of execution; he was saved at the last minute, but in the meantime he had realised how precious life is.

 

Then he becomes a three-year-old child, fatherless and the son of a mother who was often distant. His maternal grandparents share the child's cosy daily life in an upmarket neighbourhood of Brussels. On the eve of starting primary school, his grandfather decided to send him to the Nothomb family "to toughen him up." The patriarch was Pierre, a second-rate rhymester on occasion, an on-and-off lawyer, an old-fashioned man who lived in his castle at Pont d'Oye, deep in the Ardennes. Patrick experienced hunger there, but discovered life in nature, which pleased him so much he wanted more.

 

After secondary school, he studied law in Namur, and as he was "eloquent and courteous", he was steered towards diplomacy. He therefore began his professional life at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In the meantime, he had married and already fathered two children when his superiors sent him to Stanleyville as consul, where he was taken hostage along with some 1,600 fellow prisoners.